The walls of Jericho were once blown down at the sounding of trumpets. When Jesus entered that same city some 1,500 years later, His presence blew one man’s walls down and conquered his soul for heaven. This month, we read the story of Zaccheus, a dishonest first-century tax collector. Cheating builds walls between us and others, but Jesus makes us hunger for good.
Matthew 5:6 and Luke 19:1-10
Jesus had become known in Israel and was welcomed by crowds as He passed through the towns, teaching about the kingdom of God.
When our hunger for righteousness is strong enough, we might do things that seem silly in the world’s eyes. But a “fool for Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:10) will be blessed.
Luke 19 identifies Zaccheus as “a chief tax collector,” “rich,” and “a sinner” (Luke 19:2; Luke 19:7). He was a man of influence and authority, known for his immoral ways. Yet he was so eager to see Jesus that he ran ahead of the crowds and, though a grown man, actually climbed a tree. Do you find his actions surprising? Does the invitation of Jesus (Luke 19:5), who sees into our hearts, give you any clues about what Zaccheus may have been thinking at the time?
King David once wrote that he was “crushed with longing” and wept with grief (Psalm 119:20; Psalm 119:28) from an intense desire for God’s ways. Do you see evidence of a similar desire in Zaccheus’s story? In your own life?
Not everyone living a “bad” life is happy about it. Perhaps you recall a time when you were trapped in sin but hungered for truth or right living. Did your situation resolve? How has your experience helped you minister mercifully to those who, like Zaccheus, appear to be enjoying a life of sin?
CONTINUING THE STORY
To encounter Jesus is a radical experience, and it always demands from us a radical response.
Luke 19 implies Zaccheus had been living an unrighteous life for many years. (Tax collectors, of whom he was chief, were widely believed to amass their wealth through theft.) But Luke 19:8-9 indicate a stunning change of heart. Have you ever been affected by Jesus this way? If you feel trapped at this moment, would you like to ask Him to “break down your walls” right now?
When the Lord acknowledged Zaccheus and called him down from the tree, the tax collector rejoiced (Luke 19:6), though onlookers complained about Jesus’ selection. Being confronted with Christ always involves a choice: shame and retreat, or humility and embrace. When we hold on to our sin, we’ll always choose retreat. But the heart that’s willing to repent can freely embrace Jesus. How do Zaccheus’s words (Luke 19:8) explain his eagerness to dine with the Lord, no matter what the crowd said?
Xaíro, Greek for “rejoice” or “be glad” (v. 6), is related to xáris, meaning “grace.” What does that tell you about the reason for Zaccheus’s joy? About the power of Jesus’ presence to destroy our resistance and draw us into righteousness?
In Matthew 5:6, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” How would you describe Zaccheus’s satisfaction in this story?
Zaccheus was so eager to see Jesus that he ran ahead of the crowds and, though a grown man, actually climbed a tree.
Our initial conversion changes life forever, yet hunger for righteousness continues as we grow.
Paradoxically, Jesus both satisfies and increases the Christian’s desire for purity. Why do you think that is?
David pleaded with God, “Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:11 NIV). When we can’t trust ourselves to walk right, we can trust Him to break down our resistance and reshape our heart.
Consider how this study applies to your life.
When we hold on to our sin, we’ll always choose retreat. But the heart that’s willing to repent can freely embrace Jesus.
It is a blessing to have a heart that hungers for righteousness. And when we place our faith in Jesus Christ, God fulfills that longing in two ways: He forgives our sins, granting us the righteousness of His Son (2 Corinthians 5:21), and He gives us a new heart that inclines to right living (2 Corinthians 5:17). But this doesn’t mean “right living” will no longer be a struggle. In 1 Corinthians 9:27, the apostle Paul even used beating his body into submission as a metaphor of the strenuous fight to continue in Christlikeness. Thankfully, our heavenly Father gives us strength for the battle, and His compassions never fail—even when we ourselves do.
Prayer, Scripture reading, and church fellowship are some of the ways we can enjoy Jesus’ presence today. What could you do this week to draw near to the Lord and increase your hunger for Him?
To approach Jesus is to be exposed to the light. That can lead to both joy at His loveliness and alarm as we see our own faults. Each is a natural part of our journey with Him. Do you have a strong enough sense of His mercy to abide in His light? A great enough hunger to seek His goodness? What are some of the challenges related to these ideas?
To some people, the fragrance of Christ is life, and to others, death (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). A fuller understanding of Jesus will help ensure that we always allow our walls to be blown away by His righteousness and grace—which leads to profound joy.
Illustration by Adam Cruft